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The permanence of history in the eyes of Africans
Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua' Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua'
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Wyomissing, PA
Monday, June 10, 2024


American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote his seminal essay titled “The End of History?” in 1989. With anti-communism protests raging across the entire Soviet bloc at the time, the end of the Cold War appeared imminent. That prompted Fukuyama to declare in his treatise that Western liberal democracy had won the ideological contest with communism. In his view, an evolutionary process had transpired over the previous several decades and was about to culminate in the choice of liberal democracy as the preferred form of government for all nations.

Over the next two decades or so after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Fukuyama’s vision appeared to have materialized. Democratic governments emerged not only in Eastern Europe, but all over the planet. Much of the world took advantage of that peaceful period to focus resources and attention on some of humanity’s pressing needs. For a while, it seemed as if history had indeed ended.

Unfortunately, a revanchist Russia under Vladimir Putin and an increasingly authoritarian China led by Xi Jinping have quickly dashed those hopes. Despite that setback, Fukuyama’s central thesis that history is an evolutionary process remains valid. Through enlightenment, we are supposed to learn from the past in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous generations. The purpose of studying history is not to get ourselves trapped in it.

Quite sadly, current attitudes in Africa suggest that Africans have allowed themselves to be paralyzed by history. Colonialism is being used as a permanent excuse for socio-economic stagnation on the continent. To be fair, there are legions of enterprising young Africans who are doing their very best to get their lives and their countries moving ahead. But all of their good efforts are being seriously undermined by the fossilized leaders and their sycophants who spend all of their waking hours blaming everything that ails the continent on colonialism. It seems completely lost on these people that they have had control over their own lives for many decades, and that they need to start thinking and talking about agency.

Two sharply contrasting pictures currently on display in Ukraine and Ghana exemplify the African paralysis. Over the past two years, Russian forces have constantly bombed power plants and other energy infrastructure in Ukraine. That is all part of Putin’s war effort to subjugate the country. Cities, towns, and villages all across Ukraine have been plunged into darkness repeatedly. These relentless attacks on such critical infrastructure would bring life to a halt in most parts of the world. But in mind-blowing acts of courage, Ukrainian engineers work day and night, even when they are incessantly at risk of being killed by incoming missiles, to repair the damage and restore power to their compatriots.

Ghana is one of the most tranquil places on the planet today. The people and their leaders have all the time, space, and peace of mind to think about the nation’s many problems and find solutions to them. Yet, they seem to be completely incapacitated. The country is unable to do something as simple as keeping the lights on.

A good number of my family members, as well as friends, live in Ghana so I naturally follow developments in the country. As is the case everywhere on the planet today, Ghana is dealing with the effects of climate change. Pretty much everyone in Ghana that I have spoken with during the past few months has talked about the unbearable heat that has blanketed the country. From the brief periods that I have spent there in recent years, I know that it is nigh on impossible to function in that kind of weather.

Climate change necessitates climate adaptation, which means making cooling systems available for people when temperatures reach intolerable levels. It is what we do here in the rich world. For those who don’t have air-conditioners at home, local authorities open cooling centers where anyone can go during the day to get relief from the excessive heat, which can be life-threatening for some, especially the elderly.

Because of incessant power interruptions, even those who have air-conditioners installed in their homes in Ghana often cannot use them. Everyone bakes in the heat. The small percentage of the population that can afford it do procure generators. But the noise and exhaust fumes from their use are a nuisance everywhere.

Modern life is impossible without electricity. But African countries have struggled for decades to provide this critical resource to their populations. Lack of reliable electricity has been identified as a main impediment to economic development on the continent. This recognition led to the much-heralded Power Africa Initiative, which was announced by former U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Africa in July 2013. Under that program, Ghana received around $500 million that was meant to be used to address the weaknesses in the country’s electricity supply system.

Ghanaian leaders took the money, but a decade later, they have little to show for it. Essentially, the U.S. poured water into a leaky barrel. America introduced the Marshall Plan in 1948 to help rebuild Western Europe following its devastation in World War II. The Europeans wisely used the resources provided to quickly restore their cities and societies to health. When I visit places like Vienna, Munich, Berlin, Paris, London and elsewhere in Europe these days, nothing suggests to my eyes that they had been in ruins only a few decades ago.

How come the “Obama Plan” failed so spectacularly in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa? The problem, as is the case with most issues in Africa, is lack of basic discipline. Anyone who has even the slightest idea about how an electricity grid functions knows that the primary cause of the struggles with power supply in Ghana is undisciplined management. Excessive losses along the entire chain and poor revenue collection have combined to create a rickety system that is constantly at risk of collapse.

Did colonialism breed this indiscipline? The answer is an emphatic no in my opinion. And even if someone could make a convincing argument that it did, should we be forced to accept that it is an incurable disease? Again, I wouldn’t think so.

No one denies that colonialism did grave damage to Africa. But Africans make too many excuses for themselves today. And quite unfortunately, there are too many people here in the West who make the same excuses on behalf of Africans. They do a great disservice to the very people they are trying to help. As parents, one of our most important responsibilities is to give our children tough love when called for. These Western sympathizers should keep that in mind.

Watching African leaders today brings to mind the foreign policy mantras of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her boss, former President Barack Obama. Secretary Clinton wanted to be “caught trying” to find solutions to problems in the international arena, even if mistakes occurred in doing so, whereas President Obama’s “don’t do stupid stuff” approach was meant to stop America from getting itself into quagmires overseas. African leaders seem to favor “don’t do stuff.” They are hardly ever seen endeavoring.

Africans feel excessively sorry for themselves, as if they are the only people to whom history has happened. Injustice is everywhere wherever one looks in this world. That has always been the case. What the Ukrainians are suffering at the hands of Russia today is one of the worst forms of injustice ever recorded in human history. History is happening to them currently, but in the midst of all that, they find a way to keep the lights on. That is awe-inspiring character. Africans should take a good, hard look at what the Ukrainians are doing and learn some important lessons from them.

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